5 Tips for Restoring Old Furniture

Old furniture is often better than modern-mass produced furniture. It is usually made from solid pieces of wood, not glued and pressed wood chips. It is sturdy and built to last because no one could afford to replace furniture after only a few years. It usually had a classic style because it was intended to be used for years. And this is how many of us have ended up inheriting old furniture, while others intentionally seek older furniture out in antique shops to use in their homes. However, time can alter the color, appearance and stability of furniture. Fortunately, your old furniture can often be restored. Here are five tips to help you do it.

Know When Not to Bother

Refinishing is usually done when wood is slightly scuffed. This is periodically done on classic wood floors. You can consider refinishing a table where the finish has seen the stain darken over time. Or you may choose to leave it alone; since the aged look is so popular you can find how-to videos on how to make new wood look weathered and distressed. However, you should not try to restore old furniture that is currently infested with termites or ants. If the wood is rotting, don’t bother. If it has clear signs of serious water damage, such as both rot and stains, you shouldn’t waste your time.

The amount of work goes up with the size of the piece, and heirloom chests with many nooks and crannies can be a pain to clean out much less refinish. Note that wall sized shelving units have very little value in the marketplace because of the difficulty of transporting them, whereas small desks and sturdy small tables are in high demand.

If the wood has been heavily painted, this may have been done to conceal burns or water stains that refinishing alone will not resolve. Grinding down the table surface may eliminate these marks, but you will end up with a lower table that needs to be treated all over again. For that much work, you might as well find a different piece of old furniture to salvage or buy a new one. Look for pieces of wood that have varnish; it isn’t easy to remove varnish, but you can see the wood’s natural color and condition.

If you’re dealing with a rusting metal piece, consider how much work it will take to remove the surface rust from an ornate steel table as compared to a somewhat rusted weather vane with all flat surfaces. If it would take dozens of hours to remove most of the rust, it isn’t worth the effort unless the piece is an heirloom you’re attached to, and in that case, you still may want to take it to a professional to save your sanity and yourself from accidentally damaging it.

Have a Plan

Have a plan on what you want the piece to look like before you begin working on it. Also have a plan on where the piece will go and what you’re going to do with it. The only thing worse than picking up old furniture to restore is ending up storing it because you can’t decide what to do with it, though having a pile of restored furniture in a corner of the garage you don’t have a use for is a close second. Do you want to finish that chest of drawers for your daughter’s room? Now you know how you’ll need to refinish or paint it. Do you intend to use that old bookcase in your living room or as storage in the garage? There’s no point in spending a fortune refinishing a large curio cabinet if it will be stored. Your plan can include giving it away or trying to sell it, but you should be able to set a budget that will determine whether or not it is worth the effort.

Have a Budget

If you have a budget, you can decide whether or not it is worth restoring an old piece when the costs of materials or time become too much. Not all vintage pieces are worth the money it costs to repair them, much less restore them to like-new condition. Remember that your budget must include the cost of any woodworking tools you don’t have and can’t borrow or rent, not just paint, varnish and hardware.

A financial and time budget gives you exit criteria for the project, just like home shows asking if you should move or renovate take into account the cost of renovating the existing home versus the possibly lower cost of selling it and moving into a home better suited to their desires. Few people want to pour hundreds of hours into renovating old furniture or repairing a home with many flaws.

If you have stripped the stain, re-stained it and find yourself tempted to start over, consider the cost of the new supplies plus what you’ve already spent. If it is over your budget, abandon the furniture to charity, the trash or a professional who can do it right. Another benefit of a budget is that it keeps you from spending a fortune on replacement knobs from the same era instead of five dollar knobs from the hardware store that look very similar.

Understand the Scope of the Work

Sometimes old furniture only needs a new finish after you’ve stripped the old one. On a simple flat table, this is easy. On ornately carved tables and chairs, the process takes hours and is difficult for the average do it yourselfer to do right. Rust takes days to remove, if it can be done at all, and that’s hoping that the rust doesn’t affect the structural integrity or function of the piece. Replacing a detached cushion is easy, while trying to mend frayed wicker is beyond most DIYer’s skill level. Understand when the project will either take significant time to do and when it may be something you cannot do at all.

Plan on Replacing the Hardware

Unless you’re just refinishing a table surface, there is a good chance you will need to remove the furniture’s hardware. You should consider removing the hinges, pulls, handles and decorative knobs. After you finish the wood or clean up the piece, you can reassemble it with the restored hardware or new hardware that matches the original piece’s look. If you don’t know how to handle complex joints like dovetail joints, leave the restoration work to a pro.

Have you successfully restored some old furniture?

Lucy Parks has been working in the fashion industry for six years. A dedicated follower of all things fashion and beauty, she is passionate about new industry developments. Lucy is now a full time freelance fashion writer.